Who was Fannie Lou Hamer?
When one thinks of the millions of souls lost during the transatlantic slave trade, the missed potential immediately jumps to mind. All genocide robs us of the few geniuses that each culture produces. At the beginning of the previous century the pernicious system named Jim Crow served as another sort of genocide in the U.S. A genocide of potential. Many scholars have written of the number of lynchings during Jim Crow, perhaps the most famous one being Ida B. Wells’s A Red Record. Along with the incomprehensible loss of life, however, are the people who lived, but not really. The ones who weren’t fortunate enough to die. Those who lived believing a system that counted them as less valuable, less competent, less human; that this system was right, godly, and, (maybe worst of all), unchangeable.
When young people from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee walked across a cotton field in 1962 they didn’t know they were about to ignite one of the greatest intellects of the 20th century. Fannie Lou Hamer was born in 1917 in Sunflower county. She was a black woman. She was her mother’s 20th child. The first half of her life was lived quite unremarkably. She was a churchgoing woman who married, raised two daughters, and through pure savvy and hard work, rose to the rank of timekeeper on her plantation. Mrs. Hamer joined the movement for civil rights without so much as a second thought, at the age of 44. She was known to reply to those who thought she should worry about being killed, that “[Jim Crow] had been killing [her] a little bit everyday” [of her life]. Mrs. Hamer went on to challenge the sitting Democratic Party in Mississippi, to run for numerous offices, to become a valued member of Martin Luther King’s cadre of movement soldiers, to offer her very beaten body as evidence that Jim Crow had tried but not succeeded in killing her most radical self.
These poems are my love letter to Mrs. Hamer, and every black woman like her who raised me in Mississippi, and who, for me, were not exceptional. With these poems I am exposing to the world, in much the same way the young people from SNCC did, that genocide is overwhelming, but it is not total. Beneath the shrapnel of Jim Crow lay undetonated intellects –working, serving, and keeping time, until they explode.
To hear audio of Treasure Reading Poems about Fannie Lou Hamer, go to her original blog post.